Round 9

Should I climb through elbow pain?

Q: I have occasional elbow pain that subsides if I take 3 good days of rest. If I rest for only 1 or 2 days, however, it hurts like crazy to the point where I can’t climb at all. The pain is confined to the outside of my left elbow. Do you think I’d be alright cranking as hard as I can just twice a week or is it something I need to get sorted out? Great books by the way! – Joe (Sheffield, England)

A: Hello Joe, Sounds like you have a mild case of lateral epicondylitus (pain near the knobby bone on the outside of your elbow). This is a common injury that results from imbalance of the forearm muscles. Proper stretching and training of the weaker muscles on the back of the forearm will help correct the problem. (I’m attaching a Word document with more details.)

Bottom line: You should try to correct this problem before it gets worse–I’ve seen climbers lose a full season of climbing in bad cases. I’d suggest taking one to two months off from climbing this winter and train ONLY the muscles on the back of the forearm (with Reverse Wrist Curls). Hopefully, you’ll be rid of the problem next season!

How many days per week can I train on a hangboard?

Q: I moved to an area where I can only get to the climbing gym once a week. I have a warrior board to train on, but I have only found a few options for workouts. I was wondering if you could give me some advice for the best way to use the board. I have heard that injuries can be a problem. How many days a week should I use the board? — Andy (Owosso, MI)

A: Hey Andy, You ask some good questions, and your awareness of the injury issues is a good sign you won’t suffer them! First, be sure to get to the climbing gym once per week, so that you can do roped climbing and train your technique and mind. Then, I suggest you do just two hangboard workouts during the week, say, Tuesday and Thursday (assuming you go to the gym on the Sunday) or on Monday/Wednesday (if you go to the gym on Saturdays. This way you train your climbing muscles 3 days per week, which is enough to produce noticeable gains.

As for hangboard training, avoid anything “tweaky” and focus on lock-offs and pull-ups with added weight. That is, if you can do more than about 12 to 15 pull-ups, it’s time to buy a 10-pound weight belt and begin doing the pull-ups with the weight belt. Regarding lock-offs, the Frenchies described in my TFC book are excellent. Of course, don’t go overboard on the board–a 20- to 40-minute session is more than enough, and it’s wise to do some warm-up (jogging and stretching) activity before you hit the board.

Suggestions for 47-year old getting back into climbing?

Q: Dear Eric, I’m 47 years old and I’ve been climbing 20 years, but not more than 3 to 4 times per year. I would like to begin climbing more often with a goal of climbing 5.8. I’m in good shape from running and skiing, but I plan to begin climbing indoors this winter and training more specifically. How should I focus my training? – Jean (Quebec)

A: Hello Jean, Glad to hear you are getting back into climbing. Sounds like you are in good general condition, so your best investment for improvement will be to spend more time climbing. Climbing indoors two days per week this winter will go a long way for improving your skills, economy of movement, and climbing endurance. In addition, you would benefit from working some of the pull-up and lock-off exercises shown in my books. I don’t think you need any heavy duty strength training–instead invest time into actual climbing 2 or 3 days per week, striving to also climb outdoors on real rock when the weather allows. This approach should take you to 5.8 and beyond. I’m sure 5.10 is attainable give the desire and effort. Let me know how it goes!

What’s appropriate indoor training for mountaineering?

Q: I am a mountaineer who realizes the importance of wall training. What is the best program for winter training where outdoor rock climbing is impossible during week. – Will (Scotland)

A: Hello Will, It’s a tough question to answer without knowing more specifics about your outdoor climbing goals and your current fitness. As a rule, you want to climb outside as much as possible, up to 4 days a week. Of course, this is not possible for most folks, so get out when you can and strive for 2 hours of climbing indoors two days per week. If you have serious mountaineering goals, then you’d also want to include significant CV training several days per week. Hope this helps out!

Questions about general training for climbing.

Q: I’ve been training forever, but with no real purpose other than fitness (and because I enjoy it). Now that I recently took up climbing it’s fun to have something to train for. My biggest problem will be to avoid overtraining my fingers and forearms. I recently bought your 5.12 book and I have some pump rocks, but no fingerboard. Is there a good reason to have both? (A home gym is out of the question, at least for a while, and there is no nearby climbing gym). Also, do you recommend doing exercises like fingertip push-ups and finger extensions with rubber bands? — Robert (Leavenworth, WA)

A: Hey Robert, Yes, climbing is a great way to motivate yourself for training! If you are still a relative beginner, you want to keep your training “general” and focus mostly on increasing strength in the pull muscles (pull-ups and lock-offs on pump rocks are perfect), core muscles (ab crunches, knee lifts on pump rocks), and antagonist training (push-ups, reverse wrist curls, etc). Also, some aerobic training is important if you feel that your body weight is not optimal for climbing. A fingerboard would be a good investment once you feel you’ve made progress in all the above areas. Of course, you want to actually go climbing as much as possible–2 days per week minimum and 4 days max. On down the road, it would be ideal to have a home wall or join a climbing gym. Good luck!

Can you suggest drills for use on my small home wall?

Q: I am training for a trip in December and now that the snow has come I am limited to training indoors until then. My home wall is very small, but great for power and strength(steep!), but I am having trouble targeting technically week areas, specifically my feet. Can you suggest some specific drills or games that are appropriate for my training space? I have been using information from your TFC book strategies and I have been able to increase my onsight lead ability by three letter grades! – Ian (British Columbia)

A: Hello Ian, Glad to hear the books are working for you! As for indoor training, it sounds like you do have a good setup for training max strength, power, and A-E. However, it’s tough to train footwork and vertical wall technique on such a wall. So basically keep doing what you are doing, and consider adding some hypergravity training to your routine. That is, buy a 10-pound weigh belt and begin sending boulder problems on your wall with this extra weight. Another good strategy is Interval Training, where you do a 2-minute burn on the wall (about 90% max), then take a 2-minute rest, and repeat. I like using a stopwatch and have a partner keep me going for the full 2 minutes. It’s a killer workout! Of course, make sure you don’t do too much and you definitely want to avoid any tweaks (fingers, elbow, shoulders) before your trip. So, I’d suggest just 3 days on the wall per week, 4 days at the very most.

How to break through a performance plateau?

Q: Eric, My best redpointed is 7b+ and I did 12 routes about 7a+ this year (after work). I’m training on a small bouldering wall (45 degrees) two days per week, and on weekends I climb outdoors, mainly focusing about quantity over difficulty. I’m feeling good on small holds and power moves, and I can do 5 one hand pull-ups. I can do 40 (two hands) pull-ups, yet I’ve been stuck at the same level of climbing for about one year. What do I have to do to improve? — Manzatu (Bucharest, Romania)

A: Hello Manzatu, You are strong enough to climb 8a, so your weaknesses must be technique, tactics, climbing economy and, likely, the mental game. It’s tough for me to give you specific advice on these issues without seeing you climb. Therefore, you might want to locate a climbing coach who can evaluate your climbing. One idea would be to shift your outdoor climbing away from “quantity climbing” and focus on working projects. This would demand you learn new tactics such as climbing faster, relaxing more while you climbing, optimizing use of rest positions, etc. You will surely need to make some changes from your current routine (MO) in order to achieve the next level. Good luck!